The Photography Starter Kit for Beginners


Lesson Info

The Lens

Alright, folks, it is time to move on to one of my favorite sections, which is the lens. And so, that's one of the things that I really got excited about when I got my first real camera. You can take the lens off, put something else on, and you've got a whole new camera. So, let's talk about the different lenses, and the options we have. When it comes to lenses, there are two critical things that you need to know. The focal length, and the maximum aperture, and this is gonna determine what angle of view you see, and how much light comes in through the lens. And we're gonna talk about the focal length first, and that determines our angle of view. And so, when we look out through the camera, through the lens, what do we see from side to side? So, working with a full frame sensor, and I'll back track here for just a moment, sensor size is directly related to the angle of view that we're gonna see with a given focal length, and the reason I have full frame up here is it's the industry stan...

dard, it's the gold standard that everybody talks about, but the fact of the matter is, is it's not the most popular sensor out on the market. Probably the most popular sensor is about a 1.5 crop sensor. And so if you have a full frame sensor, you can look at the numbers on the top part of the screen, and if you have a crop frame, you can look at the ones on the bottom of the frame. It's possible that you may have a sensor size that is not represented by these two, but these are the two most common. So, this is what you see with a normal 50 millimeter lens on a full frame camera. When you see more from side to side, you have a wide angle lens, and there's kinda different flavors, or extremes, or levels of this. Moderate wide angle be around a 35, kind of right in the middle of wide angle world is 24 millimeters, and then you get down below 20, down to something like 16, and that is considered ultra-wide. When you have a narrower angle of view, you're gonna have a telephoto lens. We'll have short telephotos, we'll have medium telephotos, and then for those subjects that are really far off, we'll have super telephotos. Now, each of these in my mind is a tool to use, and it might be the right tool, or the wrong tool, for a particular scenario or situation. What do most people need? What do you need a lens? Well, most photographers are gonna wanna have a range that goes from 24 up to about 200. You might need something beyond that, but the average photographer needs a decent wide angle, which would be 24, and they're gonna need a medium telephoto, up to about 200. We'll talk about some of the scenarios outside that range, but that gives you a good collection of tools for addressing a lot of situations. So, let's look at each of these a little bit more closely. We'll start off with what is traditionally known as the standard lens, it's the 50 millimeter lens, on a full frame camera, on a lot of the crop frame cameras, that's gonna be about a 35 millimeter lens. Those lenses with those sensors give you this 40 degree angle of yield, which is a very similar perspective that we see the world with our own eyes. Now, because we have two eyes, and we look back and forth with our eyes, we have a much wider angle that we can see, but the relationship of one subject to a subject behind it is gonna very similar to what you see with this 50 millimeter lens. And so, for simple subjects, a simple lens is often very good, if you just want to portray that subject the way it really exists in the world. And so, if you find something, you're like, wow this is great, and I don't need to play any optical manipulation games with it, I just want it to be the way I see it, that's when you would wanna choose the 50 millimeter lens. It is a great lens for learning photography, because it's very similar to our own eyes. And so, I highly recommend using one of those. Now, the first wide angle that I'd like to talk about is a very moderate wide angle, in fact you could call it the wide normal lens. It is very similar to the 50 millimeter, but just a little bit more from side to side. And so, when you need a little bit more coverage from side to side, 'cause there's more going on, that's when you're gonna wanna use a wide angle lens. The 35 millimeter lens is also very popular for street photography. And so, if you like street or travel photography, that slightly wide angle 35 millimeter look is a very practical, useful lens. Next up, kind of right in the middle of a wide angle world is the 24, and I have found, through many years of shooting, that 24 is one of my favorite focal lengths. I love this, because it really sees the world a little bit more the way I see it with a wide angle point of view, but it's not so wide that things are distorted in any way. And so, this is a fantastic landscape lens, and travel photography lens. I do not leave the house without a 24. I gotta have a 24, or whatever the equivalent of a 24 is. Very good for landscape photography, where you can subjects in the foreground, and a subject in the background. Great for showing you those larger scenes. But sometimes, there is no room to back up, and I need to include a lot in the frame, and so this is when I go with an ultra-wide, which is gonna be around 16 millimeters. Ninety-six degrees. And so, this is a cistern in Morocco. It's not that big, but I'm trying to show as much as much of this indoor place as possible. And it's a perfect time to pull out that really ultra-wide angle lens. And, one of the things that you'll notice with wide angle lenses, is the foreground is really important, you get a lot of foreground in these, when you have ground anywhere near you, and so if you are working with a wide angle lens, you need to be thinking about what's in the foreground. The ways that these get misused is people walk up to a big scene like a Grand Canyon type scene, where they're standing on the edge, and everything is ten miles away, and they shoot it with a wide angle lens, and everything is two pixels in size on the frame, it's not very good. And so, if you have a really wide angle lens, you have to think about what's gonna be in the foreground for a lot of those types of shots. Alright, let's work our way up into the telephotos now. So, this is a short telephoto. Hundred millimeters, and when I say a hundred, I'm including 85, 105, 135, all the numbers in this general region, we're not gonna get hung up on specific numbers, but just the general neighborhood, if you will. And so, for the crop frame user, just a little note here, 65 millimeters, but you know what's really close to 65? Fifty. And 50 millimeter lenses are very popular, and so there's a lot of 50s out there that can be used for this same type of work. This is perfect when you're not allowed to get closer. And so, this is in Athens, and they literally have a line that says, "do not cross this line." And so, if you wanna get closer to these guards as they're doing their changing of their guards routine, you're gonna have to have a telephoto lens. And so, perfect for those situations when you can't get closer. But what these lenses are known for more than anything else, is they are known as portrait lenses. And they are known as portrait lenses, because they render the human face, and the human body in a beautiful way, it's a good perspective where we're not exaggerating the size of the nose, we're not flattening it. It's very similar to the way we would see people with our own eyes at a normal, comfortable distance from them. I mentioned before that you're gonna probably want a lens that goes up to 200 millimeters. This is a medium telephoto lens, and this is great for people that have an eye for details. If you notice little things that you wanna get in closer to, a 200 millimeter lens is really gonna help you get in close without being intrusive, 'cause, to shoot this with a 50 millimeter lens, you'd be right on top of this person, but here you can shoot it from several feet away further. And so, it's great for details. But it's also good in another area, which comes with telephotos, and that is compression. And compression is when you have subjects at different distances, each of these mountain ridges is probably ten miles from the next one, but with a 200 millimeter lens, they're all kind of compressed, and they all seem like they're close together. So, if you have multiple subjects, and you want them to seem closer, you use a telephoto lens. Sometimes you need to back up in order to make that happen. And then sometimes you need to pull out the big guns. And this is where super telephotos come into play. It's 400 millimeters on up. And so, there's a lot of times when you're photographing a subject, and it just won't tolerate you getting any closer. So, obviously, wildlife photography is where you gonna see this, 400s, 500s, 600s, and so forth. Also, very good for sports photography, and one of the things that you'll notice about these telephoto lenses, is that they often render your subjects with a very shallow depth of field, which is a topic we're gonna be talking about next. And so, if you wanna isolate one subject, you can do that very easily with a telephoto lens. Now, there are two general categories of lenses, primes, and zooms. And people are always wondering, who are getting into photography, what's better? I've talked to this photographer, and they say that, and then I talk to that photographer, and the say exactly the opposite thing. These are both good lenses, and you're gonna get good quality results from both. Now, the prime lenses, they are technically a little bit sharper, but that's only part of what you're looking for in a lens. They're faster, which means they let in more light. We'll talk about that coming up. And they are typically a little bit smaller in size, 'cause they're just designed to do one thing. The zooms are more versatile, they're smaller than a collection of primes, and there's less lens changing, so if you're in a dusty environment, or a place where you just can't change a lens, like you're hanging out of a helicopter, it's a lot easier to have a zoom lens, than to try to switch lenses on a camera. And so, my general advice to people is start with one or two zoom lenses for general purpose. Maybe pick up a prime not too long after, just as a basic one just to get into it. I will choose a prime when I know exactly what I'm going to do. And so, if somebody says, John, you're gonna be in the studio, you're gonna be shooting portraits, this is the size of your studio, and this is the type of portrait you're gonna get, I would know which prime to bring. But, if somebody says, John, we need you to shoot some portraits, and I can't really tell you what the setups gonna be, and I don't really know when, and how they're gonna be used, just be ready for anything, I would wanna bring a zoom lens. And so, if I do travel photography, which usually is a way of telling you, I don't know what I'm gonna be photographing, but I'm gonna be photographing a lot of stuff, that's when I take a zoom. When I have a defined assignment, and I have the right lens, that's when I choose the prime. And so, you start with zooms, and they you kind add in primes as you start defining your personal style, and what you are doing in photography. From Gordon, who says, "will mirrorless cameras have full frame sensors, and big zooms?" So, are there limitations to what lenses you can use on mirrorless? Okay. Dangerous question, folks. We're edging off into an area that I really like to go, which is the highly geek out, and we'll just touch on it a little bit. So, mirrorless cameras can produce very small cameras. But it's the sensor size that will determine the lens size. And so, if you put a full frame sensor into a mirrorless camera, that's great, the camera's a little bit smaller, but the lenses are gonna be pretty much the same size as they are on the SLRs. And so, you buy a mirrorless camera, because it has capabilities that you like, not because it's gonna be that much smaller. Now, some of them, if they do use a smaller sensor, will end up using smaller size lenses. And so, for instance, the one that a lot of people talk about is Sony. They have a full frame mirrorless camera, but their lenses are, like, exactly the same size as Canon and Nikon, and my advice to anyone who wants to find the perfect camera is go to the camera store, look at the cameras, walk by them, go over to the lenses, look at them, walk by them, go to the bag department, find a bag that you really like, like, this is bag that will take with me. You take that bag over to the camera counter, and you ask them, what fits inside this bag? 'Cause then you're gonna have, that's what you really end up with, is you end up with a bag of equipment, and that's what you wanna be happy with. And so, you know, I use a full frame mirrorless camera, but it's not for size reasons. The lenses, they all end up being the same sizes, and by the time you get them in a bag, it's all the same size. And so, when we go back to talk about the mirrorless, mirrorless is the future, not because it's a little bit smaller, but because of the technology, and the capabilities that it has going forward. So, it's like a two-part question, and you kind of briefly touched base with it, but for more landscape photography, you said, like what's your favorite lens to use for that, and also, for like wedding photography, where there's a little bit of both, like more landscape, and then a lot of close up, what would you recommend, and like what would you say is your personal favorite? Right. So, for both of those, it's not a lens, it's a range. And it's kinda the range that you think is pretty good. Now, the safe range is, I'm gonna go right back to what I said at the very beginning, 24 to 200. Now, when doing landscape photography, I usually like, depending on the environment, I usually like an ultra-wide lens. So, if somebody said, let's go up to Mount Rainier National Park, the wildflowers are out, I'm thinking, okay that's a big beautiful environment, that's where I might want that super wide angle lens, but do you remember that 200 millimeter shot with the blue ridges? Okay, with all those blue ridges, that was shot from up on Mount Rainier, and I consider that a landscape scene, it's not the wide angle shot, but there's a lot of great details when it comes to landscapes. Same thing is true of the wedding ceremony. I've shot a few weddings. It's not my career, but I've shot a few weddings, and sometimes I'm standing in the back, right down the aisleway, and I wanna show a wide angle that shows all the guests, and everybody up in front, and everything, but then I'm gonna pull out the 200 millimeter lens, and I'm gonna get tight shots of people in various places. And so, it's that same 24 to 200 range that's really valuable. Alright, we have a ton of questions online about lenses, which is why it's great that you have a full, full, lens classes here on Creative Live, but you mentioned that the 100 millimeter is great for portraits, since I have a crop sensor, would I want to get a 65 millimeter lens, or a 100 millimeter lens? Can you again explain how the lens choice differs based on the type of camera you have? So, I don't know which crop sensor they have. If they have the 1.5, which a lot of people have, a 65 would be right, great, smack dab in the middle. Now, a 50, that's gonna work really fine, as well. On the other side, you could go with an 85, and the difference is, how much space do you have to work with, and where is your subject, and let's just pretend right now this is our subject. With a 50 millimeter lens, actually I can actually set it here, but it would right about here, when you get the 85, you suddenly start needing to take a few steps back, and if you have a small living room, or a small room that you're working in, you're gonna find that's a little too, you don't have enough room to work with. And so, the 50 would be the safe choice. It's also less money, and smaller in size. So, that would probably be the easy first one to go with. What does infinity mean in terms of lenses? Infinity. Cameras, lenses can go to infinity and beyond. One of the things get into in the lens class. But infinity is stuff far away, and it kinda depends a little bit on what lens. On an ultra-wide angle lens, everything beyond about 50 feet, maybe 30 meters, is basically infinity. With a more telephoto lens, like a 300 millimeter lens, you're gonna probably be out there at a half mile, or a mile away before that's considered infinity. So, it's basically whatever is really far away. And so, that is of course the symbol that looks like a sideways eight. Last one, we have, someone who says, "I love wildlife, I have a 28 to 300, but I wanna get closer. Would a 300 millimeter with extenders be the way to go?" So, can you talk a little bit about how you can extend lenses, and whether that's a good idea? Right, and so, we don't have time for it in this class, and the class that Kenna was alluding to earlier is, I do have an entire two day class on Nikon lenses, and one on Cannon lenses, and I'm even thinking about doing one for some other brands, and generic ones coming up. And so, we'll have more of a chance to look at the different extenders, but you can stick these extenders between the body and the lens to magnify the image that's coming through the lens to get a longer focal length. Typically, to do this, you need a very high-quality lens to work with, because it always degrades the quality a little bit. In a real general sense, these days, you need a thousand dollar lens, in order to get decent results from that extender on there. And so, you can get a 300 millimeter lens, you can get a 1.4 converter, and then that raises it up to I think 420 millimeters, or you can get a doubler, and make it 600. Now, you do lose a stop of light, and two stops of light with the one four, and the two x. And so, there is a price to be paid. And so, if you have a 20, or something up to 300, and you wanna get closer, right now, I think the best solution is any one of the 150 to 600 millimeter lenses that are available. Nikon has a 200 to 500 that's quite nice. And so, you're first choice is to just get a lens that gets long enough as you want to. If it's a really high-quality one, and it takes adapters, because not all lenses can you put adapters on for teleconverters. It's something that you can only do, generally, with those higher end lenses. Then, you can buy a 400 millimeter lens, put a doubler on it, and get an 800 out of it. And so it's a possibility. I own a couple of extenders, but I try to use them as little as possible. It's kinda like high ISL. You only go to it when you really really really have to.

Class Description

“This is a great starter class. I thought I understood how shutter speed and aperture worked together, but this class made it come together in a matter of minutes. I'm already taking better pictures and this is just the beginning!” -Jennifer Manley, CreativeLive Student

Learn how to take the kind of photograph you’ll want to print and pass on to the next generation. John Greengo is back to teach this updated photography for beginners class. You’ll learn the principles of good beginner and intermediate photography and get the skills necessary to create amazing photos. 

Advanced cameras are available at modest price points, but learning how to use them takes an investment.

  • Learn the the most essential functions of your camera 
  • Gain confidence in putting new functions into action 
  • Get the swing of basic photographic terminology 
  • Feel prepared to move on to more advanced classes 
  • Gain a solid understanding of must-know lighting and composition techniques 
  • Lean to position yourself and your subject to capture the best photo possible with the camera you have – no additional gear needed 
If you want to take more memorable and inspiring photographs of your travels, your friends and family, or the great outdoors then this photography for beginners class is for you. Learn how to make average pictures amazing photographs and gain the ground necessary to continue your photography education.  

“This is a super introduction to photography for anyone who really wants to learn how to understand and begin to use the camera to its full extent. John is an excellent teacher, very easy to follow, with great graphics and examples.”  -Sarah, CreativeLive Student  


Kanoelani Patenaude

I am a pro photographer in my dreams, where I know the in's and out's of my camera; however, reality proved differently, as real life would tell you, I was a deer caught in headlights just looking at my new 7D Mark II. I am a photographer enthusiast without the skills, but a lot of love for the moments one, or the profession/hobby of it can capture. I mostly shoot my husband, friends, and community surfers in the lineup, and of course, my children, who rarely sit still. Thus, I switched from Nikon to Canon, venturing on the 7D Mark II for the grand reviews of how stellar of camera it is for action shots (surfing, and kids, this was a no brainer). That said, and overwhelmed with the way beyond my skill set, but noted desire and aspiration to grow, I made the purchase, and sought help rather quickly as I wanted to feel confident with what I was utilizing to capture the best memories possible. I came into this John's courses knowing the "on/off" button, and "auto" shoot mode. I came out of the course feeling like the pro in my dreams, and ready to shoot manual. John's teaching style is on point, and his detailed visuals are a huge plus. My first shots post this photography kit course, I thought were great for my first educated shoot, and shockingly, I even received and email from one of the sponsors of the surfers I captured, asking if they could use my image for their sites and publications. Not bad for a newbie. Though, my intent was never a business purpose, I did not know if I should charge a small fee, or give it for free. I don't mind free as it's not my business, yet I don't want to ruin it for any professional photographers in town doing the same thing that are charging. Perhaps another course to help me with that. I highly recommend courses by John Greengo! Thank you so much, John!

Megan Wagner

John is extremely articulate and is a great teacher with lots of visual aids and metaphors to help understand photography. I have been doing photography for a few years now and this class was a tremendous help in boosting my knowledge and refreshing my memory in multiple aspects of photography. The graphics that John uses are helpful and he even goes through images and asks which settings would be best to use and will go through the why. He makes things easy to understand and is very clear about the information he provides. I am so glad I took this course and I would highly recommend it even to an experienced photographer. Thank you John Greengo!